The Comets have a Goalie Controversy

During the
2013-2014 season, the Vancouver Canucks’ goalie depth chart was pretty clear
cut: Roberto Luongo was the starter, as all the previous drama was now behind
him; Eddie Lack was the backup though soon would want to be a starter
somewhere; and newly signed Joacim Eriksson was coming from Sweden to continue
development in the AHL.  In the Canucks
and Comets systems there was also Joe Cannata and Matthieu Corbeil signed, but they
were never going to be much more than ECHL starters (Corbeil was bounced around
4 teams, effectively cut from each) and AHL backups.

That all
changed the day John Torterella decided to play Lack in the Heritage Classic, citing
that the Senators had been scouting Luongo and he wanted to throw a curve-ball
at the Senators.  He’s never blatantly
said it but, Luongo wanted to play it that game, and after years of abuse from
the fans, the media and the team, this was the straw to break the camel’s back.

Luongo was
shipped out, and in return came back young Jacob Markstrom as part of a
package.  Not feeling confident with two
young goalies to start the 2014-2015 season the new Vancouver management signed
veteran goaltender in Ryan Miller. This
whole dynamic of 5 goaltenders in the system (with a sixth still developing in
the NCAA) is now going to start a new goalie controversy with two goalies
fighting for the number one position.  I
am not talking about one in Vancouver, but rather one in Utica.

Read past
the jump for a breakdown of the Utica Comets goaltender situation.

During
training camp, it was rumoured for a few days that the Canucks would start the
season with three goaltenders in the NHL: Ryan Miller, Eddie Lack and Jacob
Markstrom.  This is not a very ideal
situation as you can only have one goalie dressed as a backup on the bench, you
can only have two goalies in the two nets during practice which essentially
means that none of the goaltenders will get the proper development, coaching,
training and mental/game preparedness they need. Furthermore, a third goalie chews up a roster spot that could be used for a spare forward or defenseman, kept around in case of injuries.

Thankfully,
this idea only floated around for a couple days as the Canucks sent Markstrom
down on the first day of waivers. 
Eriksson was sent down a few days later effectively creating a second
goalie controversy with two solid netminder options now duking it out for the
number one position in Utica.

Jacob Markstrom

Jacob
Markstrom is currently on the last year of his one-way contract where he is
being paid $1.4M.  Because of the “Redden
Rule”, where you cannot bury contracts in the minors, Markstrom is causing a
dead weight cap hit in the NHL of $275K. 
The Canucks didn’t want to lose him on the waiver wire, in part because
they feel he still has some value and in part because of the negative reaction
that the Luongo trade return would only be Shawn Matthias (even though that was
the result of the old management).  It
has been speculated and came to light earlier that the Canucks were impressed by
his play during camp and didn’t want to expose Markstrom to other teams, so the
only game he played in was the one in Stockton which may or may not have happened (but we
have no proof).

Elliote Friedman
reported that that the Canucks did try and trade Markstrom for a pick, to New
Jersey and Winnipeg, so they wouldn’t lose him for nothing.  When nothing materialized out of that the
Canucks sent down Markstrom on the first day to have the best chance of him not
being claimed.  Given that it was
reported in that Markstrom was excited for the opportunity to work with Rollie
Melanson to try and refine his game and it was interesting to see Friedman also
mentioned this interesting nugget:

7.   Two
years ago, Florida came through Toronto late in the season, while giving
Markstrom a run of starts. Their goalie coach, Rob Tallas, was excited about
the opportunity for him and what it could do for his career. Last season, while
Tallas never said a negative word, you could tell the enthusiasm was gone, that
Markstrom did not take advantage. He’s still only 24. Will the knowledge he was
unwanted give him the kick he needs?

I’ve
written about Markstrom before
and I don’t think that he should be written off as a non-NHL caliber
goaltender.  The premise for that
argument is three-fold:  (1) Markstrom
has just turned 24, he’s still young and developing for a goaltender. (2) Markstrom
has only seen 1200 shots against in the NHL which is only 40% of the 3,000
shots against we need to see in order to be confident on a goalie’s true
talent. (3) Finally, NHL players are usually the best of the best, meaning that
they have succeeded in lower tiers of hockey and so far Markstrom has done that
both in the SHL and the AHL.  The problem
is that management is risk adverse in the NHL and when goalies start going on a
bad streak they rarely give them second chances.  It’s this survivorship bias that could be
removing a lot of bad goalies, but still keeps ones like Ondrej Pavelac around.

Joacim Eriksson

Eriksson
was a free agent signing last summer out of Sweden and a key to much of the success that the
Utica Comets had.  Due to the Philadelphia Flyers neglecting to sign him after being drafted, Eriksson was a young free agent which allowed the
Canucks to acquire him.  He spent the last
year in Utica where the first part of the year was a bit rocky, likely due to
the team in front of him forming while he was adjusting to North American
ice.  By the end of the season Eriksson’s
Sv% had continued to increase until he put up a final mark of .911, which is better than AHL average.  He even usurped Joe Cannata as
the starter for the Comets early in the season.

It is rumored that Eriksson’s contract has an out that allows him to return to
Sweden if he is not happy here in the AHL. 
This would allow him to remain Canucks property but he would be far away
from their ability to monitor and help him develop.

While he
has a small sample size so far in North America, he has a track record of
success in the SHL.  It will be key that
he proves last year was not just a random variance in the data but rather
indicative of proof he will be able to succeed in the NHL.  It is possible that Eriksson could be playing in the
NHL within two years or so, and right now he may have a higher value than
Markstrom, due to Markstrom’s NHL struggles.

Joe Cannata

Joe Cannata
is often forgotten about when talking about goalies in the Canucks’ system but
that is what happens when you are clearly at the bottom of the list.  Cannata played in the NCAA where he put up
impressive numbers, but that success hasn’t been replicated in the pro
leagues.  Despite that, at 24, he is as
young as the other goalies and it is possible that he will continue to develop,
though I wouldn’t hold my breath.  He did
start off the season in Utica last year as the starter but was overtaken by
Eriksson only four games into the season. 
Sports reporter and broadcaster in Utica, Ray Biggs told me that Cannata shouldn’t have even
been in the AHL let alone as a starter.  This season, Joe Cannata has been loaned to the Ontario Reign of the ECHL as Kalamazoo already has two goalies on the roster.

2014-2015 Usage

Is
splitting the AHL starts between the two goalies the best approach?  Ignoring non-playing factors I am not sure, I
do not know of any studies on optimal number of starts for goalie
development.  I am sure every team,
coach, management and player has their own personal preference and ideas of
what is best.  If we look at all goalies
that played 1500+ mins in the AHL last year we see a range of games played from
28 to 52.  The best goalie in the AHL
last season was Jake Allen who posted a .928 Sv% over 52 games.  Eriksson tied him in games played. 

The average
number of games for the top goalies seems to be in the 37.5-39 range so it
might be possible to have Markstrom and Eriksson share starts without it
negatively affecting their development. 
If we look at the next top 4 goalies last season (Joni Ortio, Abbotsford; Petr Mrazek, Grand Rapids; Tom McCollum, Grand Rapids; and Nathan Lieuwen, Rochester) they all
started 37, 32, 36 and 32 games respectively. 
Splitting the season might work for these goalies without harm, but then
the question becomes, will the two goalies accept this situation?

If Eriksson
is not happy with this situation he could leave for Sweden, which would not be ideal for the Canucks.  He will likely get
a decrease in the number of games started next year which is not a bad thing as
it would be Markstrom in relief and not Cannata.  This could also help raise Markstrom’s trade
value as it is unlikely he will be re-qualified at the end of so it would be
nice to get something for him.

Right now the two goalies will have to fight out to be the 1A and the 1B – but the question is, who will become the 1A?  With two games so far this AHL season both goalies have gotten the start.  Markstrom played in the first game, let in less goals, but in less shots against.  Markstrom made 24 stops on 25 shots for Sv% this year so far of 0.96.  Eriksson played a full game, plus overtime going to the 3-on-3 format and with that he has made 25 stops on 28 shots good for a .893 – strikingly similar to his slow start last season, but with only a one-game sample size.

Cannata has been sent down to the ECHL which may be the best place for him to try and develop.  For him it might be a little too late. A better, but more difficult option is to
find another AHL team that Utica could loan Cannata to.  This is ideal as it will give him the higher
talent to hopefully continue to develop.

With all
that said and done, the fans in Utica are going to be happy regardless as they
have two solid AHL netminders in play this year, and Eriksson is already a fan
favourite.  As long as Eriksson is
willing to stay, splitting the Comets games between him and Markstrom seems to be
an adequate option.  All that is left
is for Travis Green to stop playing the same goalies in back to back situations.

  • Mantastic

    Though “try to do” can always be substituted for “try and do,” the latter has a shade of meaning that justifies its existence; in exhortations it implies encouragement–the effort will succeed–; in promises it implies assurance–the effort shall succeed. It is an idiom that should be not discountenanced, but used when it comes natural.

  • Mantastic

    Controversy?

    The Canucks now have two AHL goalies with a shot at being NHL backups/replacement players as opposed to wasting a roster spot on a mascot like Cannata.

    I welcome an NHL 13th forward controversy that relegates Sestito to his optimal spot as Utica mascot…

  • Mantastic

    If Luongo was offended by his performance in the finals like he was offended by the classic game snub, Vancouver fans would have had a cup by now.

    But it’s not Luongo’s fault, his over rated multi million dollar contract “sucks”.

    No Luo, you contract didn’t suck…something else did.

      • Mantastic

        I never said the team didn’t have any with heartless chokers and a cowardly captain in the finals. But if you must insist on that too, than I’ll add that to the list.

        Luongo was a basket case, melt down after meltdown. Has he won in Boston since? I can;t remember.

          • Mantastic

            “I’m sure some Cup contender could use another front running fairweather fan…”

            Soooo, you’re trying to tell everyone that you like cheering for losers?

            Why cheer for a cup contender when you can cheer for one that’s not?

            Makes sense. Do all Vancouver people think like you? If they do, than they must be losers.

  • Mantastic

    It’s not a goaltending controversy, it’s two prospects competing. Split the starts until one of them wins the job outright or loses it due their play.

    If both match quality start for quality start, having trade assets is always a good thing for the Canucks franchise…

  • Mantastic

    “after years of abuse from the fans”, wow, someone (by which I mean, the writer) needs to get out of the Vancouver bubble and see how pro athletes are treated everywhere. Unless you’re Derek Jeter, or playing in an apathetic market, you’re going to hear about it when you’re not playing up to the fans’ standards. If you think Canucks fans are harsh, you haven’t seen enough fanbases. And if Luongo wanted out because of that, he belongs in Florida because he doesn’t have the emotional fortitude to play in a real hockey market.

    • Mantastic

      I propped you , man…you speak the truth.

      The only reason the Canucks are even still here is because the rich dopes with money to burn have no other team to throw it at. If any other reasonably decent pro sports team ( not the bush league CFL) were here, the Canucks would have packed up and left their mediocrity behind a long long time ago.

      As for Luongo, I don’t even think he will last in the basement known as Florida. He can tell his children someday how he was cheated by the Canucks and the ” sucky” contract they gave him.